Last week, the story of the release of Ohio kidnapping victims Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight dominated news headlines across the globe. Missing for over 10 years, it seemed as though everyone had given up hope on them being ever being found alive.
One person who had definitely given up hope on Amanda Berry was celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne. In an article published on the Huffington Post last week it was reported that Sylvia Browne had confirmed to Amanda Berry's heartbroken mother during a televised episode of the Montel Williams show in 2004 that Berry was dead. She convincingly backed up her statement by plugging into the obviously strong relationship that had existed between mother and daughter before Amanda's disappearance saying 'Your daughter's not the kind who wouldn't call'.
Tragically, Amanda's mother died shortly afterwards without ever knowing the truth about her daughter's disappearance.
Despite the internet backlash against Sylvia Browne that has ensued, Amanda Berry's family have said that they don't blame her.
After my own personal experiences with psychics I admire their graciousness.
Although they are known under a variety of different job titles, psychics, clairvoyants, fortune tellers, tarot readers or palm readers they essentially all do the same job, tell you your future in exchange for a fee usually larger than what you pay your doctor for a visit.
It was my battle with infertility and my desperation to have a child that drove me to visit a psychic a couple of years ago. My husband and I had been trying to conceive without success for almost a year and were starting to fear that something might be wrong, but rather than go to see a doctor and start the process of medical investigations I chose to go to psychic and have them tell me what the future held instead.
While many psychics openly advertise their services it is common knowledge that the really good ones can only be found by word of mouth. Even some of the ones referred by word of mouth can be extremely difficult to track down, often changing phone numbers or locations due to the demand from people seeking readings. Some even had waiting lists of a couple of months to get an appointment. To me, this cloak and dagger behaviour made the prospect of hearing an accurate fortune all the more probable, and it was only later I realised that it was all part of the plan to lure me in.
Despite having a very logical, rational circle of friends I was able to consult with at least five people for recommendations on which fortune teller gave the most accurate readings. While not everyone will admit to having attended a psychic it is estimated that one in four people will seek them out at some point in their lives.
Deep down I didn't really believe that anyone could tell the future but I was desperate for hope, for someone to confirm what I felt myself in my heart to be true.
I had been advised by my friends to give a fake name on the phone, thanks to the wealth of information that exists today about all of us online, to take off my wedding ring before going in and to generally be very vague about the reason for my visit. These tactics were thought to throw the psychic off course and were the best measure of their skill. If they were able to tell you things which had already happened in your life it was more likely that their predictions would be true.
After a bit of initial probing my chosen psychic quickly determined the reason for my visit. I later realised that when a thirty something girl walks in looking for a reading she is typically looking for a prediction on love, children or career so the alleged psychic abilities actually have more to do with an ability to spot trends.
To my relief he confirmed that I would indeed be a mother of one boy and one girl. Naturally, I asked him for a time frame on the first baby and he told me I would be pregnant within six months. Six months seemed a very long time to me then, but I consoled myself that at least it was going to happen. The future was certain.
A very long, painful and heartbreaking two years later there was still no baby, only one failed IVF cycle and one miscarriage. Despite my anger over what felt like a cruel joke and my shame at having believed in it in the first place, I somehow found myself sitting in front of another psychic shortly after my miscarriage last year. At that time I was completely heartbroken, grieving for the baby I had lost and desperate for a glimmer of hope that motherhood was still part of my future. Even though I now knew the previous prediction had not come true my mind still searched for logical explanations. Maybe the first psychic was right but he had the timeline wrong? Maybe he was tired, after all, I was the last client at the end of a long day and he did say Aries star signs were the hardest to read.
With the second psychic there was no beating around the bush and no sooner had the first tarot card been drawn than he revealed, to my complete horror, that I wasn't going to be a mother.
Through my tears I tried to protest but he silenced me by saying "it's there in the cards, we can't change it" before ushering me out of the room. At least he had the decency not to charge me.
What he had told me was impossible for me to comprehend. My future stretched out in front of my empty and hopeless yet I tried to tell myself that at least now I could move on. I was only thirty-one.
In the weeks that followed I tried to 'give up hope', to abandon my plans for further fertility treatment and to envisage a new future without children. I was tormented by what I believed my future held and what they had told me was laid out for me. I went back and forth between the two readings trying to decide which one was more accurate on the whole.
Then one day I woke up and realized that I had been completely and utterly hoodwinked. While there was an element of 'fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me' and I acknowledged that I had willingly put myself up for being duped I was angered that someone had taken advantage of me when I was at my most vulnerable and that I had paid one of them to do it.
I realised that it was up to me make up my own mind about my future and that the only possible way for me to make that a reality was to actively pursue it. I am still waiting to find out what my future holds in terms of motherhood but in a strange way I am more determined than ever.
My experiences with fortune tellers were among the reasons I called my infertility memoir Motherhoodwinked.